I’ve written before about Carlos Serra’s great presentation at PMI EMEA this year. In this final article about my thoughts around what he discussed, I’d like to highlight the barriers he flagged that prevent organisations from effectively carrying out benefits realisation management.
1. Low levels of competence
First up, one of the major barriers to effectively measuring and achieving benefits is lack of skill. Project managers that don’t know how to do this won’t do it. Simple.
Qualifications and credentials can help, but I think you would also benefit from coaching or a PMO manager who could guide you through the processes, especially the first time you do it. It starts with a robust business case that explains what the benefits are and then carries on to go through processes to identify how they are going to be measured and then actually measuring them. It’s quite an involved process so without prior experience or a lot of support it’s no wonder that people struggle.
I’m not sure of any qualifications that particularly address the detailed processes of benefits realisation management, but I’m sure there are some.
2. Out-of-date culture
A culture that ranks projects on their project management performance (i.e. did we hit the budget and deadline?) instead of their overall contribution to business strategy is one that doesn’t value benefits management. Ideally, the business culture should evaluate projects on their outcomes, not their output, but that requires a change of mindset and a longer term vision – or an awareness, at least, of the longer term.
I feel it is hard to change culture, especially at the top, but at least if you are aware that success is being measured in ways that don’t tangibly relate to benefits then you can work accordingly.
3. Lack of integration
Integration across all areas of the business helps: no one gets much done in an organisation that is riddled with silos. For example, in the area of benefits management you’d want to be able to link the processes of:
with benefits so that you can track them through the whole project life cycle and the whole business from conception to delivery and beyond.
Integration at this level requires a degree of maturity that I don’t see very often. If you don’t feel that you have the business integration across the whole piece that would successfully lead to good benefits realisation, then I would recommend you start with what you can influence and see what difference that makes.
4. Poor processes
Poor processes are a barrier to getting most things done and benefits management is no exception. When there is a gap in the process for managing benefits then you’ll find things fall down through the holes.
Carlos pointed out in his presentation that one of the common areas for poor processes is in businesses that provide products and services to external customers. I can see why it is harder perhaps to track benefits in companies like that, but if you want to make sure that your project management division is achieving company-wide benefits, it should be an end-to-end process, even if the end is external.
Setting up robust processes must take time: I imagine a fair amount of time as it requires a deep level of organisation maturity, at least in that area if not in all areas of managing projects and project selection.
5. Lack of leadership
This one comes up time and time again, doesn’t it? If benefits management is not taken seriously at the highest levels in the organisation, then the lowly project manager (or even quite a senior project manager) doesn’t have a chance at being able to adopt good practices on his or her projects.
Benefits realisation needs to be led from the top, with a focus on a suitable culture, mature processes and a corporate overview that stresses that projects are done because of the outcomes that the business receives.
I really enjoyed learning more about benefits from Carlos. I hope you did too!
And find Carlos’s blog online here: Projectizing.com
In this video I explain why project managers should be commercially aware.
The APM have recently produced a research paper about what makes projects successful, called The Conditions for Project Success.
The 12 factors that “provide a framework for project success” are not likely to be things that come as a surprise:
The bit that is most interesting in the context of this blog is how those factors map to successfully delivering on your project budget.
What makes for a successful project budget?
The research report looks at how strongly each of these success factors map to common measures of success such as time, quality, stakeholder satisfaction and then a general measure of success across the board. The budget one relates to “delivery to budget” so I take from that whether or not the project was completed without exceeding the budget.
The top six success factors which influence your ability to hit your budget targets are:
Planning and project review
This was in the top three for all success measures, which makes a lot of sense. This area covers progress monitoring, good scheduling, a flexible approach backed up by risk management and a sensible approach to managing change, good project initiation and an approach to lessons learned.
This was another factor that correlated strongly to project success across all the measures. You can’t monitor and control your spending unless you have clear governance in place. And more than clear governance: it needs to be effective at keeping that spending under control.
Goals and objectives
Unsurprisingly, this was the third success factor that mapped widely across all areas.
Related to the budget measure specifically, proven methods (i.e. “best practice” techniques) has the same statistical influence as goals and objectives and the next one…
This relates to whether the culture, structure and environment are set up to be conducive to project success. The example given in the research document is that trade unions are supportive of the project.
Competent project teams
As you’d expect, having project managers and team members who know what they are doing and are capable of carrying out their roles without making stupid mistakes is pretty important.
Commitment to project success
This relates to everyone involved believing that the project is achievable. In other words, making sure everyone is aligned to the vision and that the vision is not ridiculous. This has to flow across all the team members from the sponsor to suppliers and any other third parties involved.
The least important success factors
The three success factors deemed statistically the least important to being able to deliver to budget are:
What about funding?
Surprisingly, secure funding as a success factor comes in at number nine. It’s not in the bottom three, but it isn’t in the top six either. I thought that was odd: surely secure funding is a pre-requisite for hitting your budget?
I suppose, on thinking about it, that it isn’t. If your funding isn’t properly in place then you don’t have a budget to hit.
Subsidiary success factors
The survey also looked at subsidary success factors: those that aren’t considered the main ones (the 12 mentioned above) but that are still statisically significant when you look at their contribution to project success. I should probably add at this point that it was a survey, so these are respondent-reported outcomes rather than an independent expert analysing project data and assigning success factors and measures objectively.
The three subsidiary success factors that correlate with delivery to budget are:
Again, none of this stuff is rocket science. If making sure that your project delivers within the budget you have agreed, then you need to make sure you have enough time to do it, manage your money well and mitigate risk in a sensible way.
Do these results about project success factors and their impact on whether or not you can deliver to budget come as a surprise to you? Let us know in the comments.
About the survey: The study was done by asking 25 leading project management professionals to come up with an initial framework for success factors and then checking it out with 862 practitioners. You can read more about it on the APM website and the whole report from BMG is available as a PDF download here.
7 Books to Improve Your Projects
Looking for something to read over the summer? I’ve picked six of my top choices from this blog and one bonus review so that you can choose the right book to improve your projects over the summer holidays.
Most of them are available as ebooks so you don’t need to worry about weighing your suitcase down!
Roger H. Davies and Adam J. Davies
This book will help you answer questions from the executive group about how projects are adding value to the bottom line. They define value as ‘outcomes minus inputs’ so it’s a broad-ranging approach to working out how you are contributing, and applicable whatever ‘value’ means to you and your stakeholders.
It’s not an easy read but there are plenty of anecdotes, tables and graphs that explain the core concepts and help you get the most out of every project and programme that you do.
Business Case Essentials: A Guide to Structure and Content
Marty J. Schmidt
This is another of my favourites (I know, I have a lot!) because it is so practical. If you are preparing a project business case for the first time then this will really help you get your ideas clear and your figures in order.
Math for Grown-Ups
I read this a long time ago but it’s still one of my all-time favourite books. I did OK at Maths (as we call it over here) at school but only because I really worked at it. It never came naturally to me.
As project managers we need to be confident dealing with numbers because they are everywhere: estimates, schedule variances, earned value, the budget, risk assessments – lots of project management techniques involve processing data and crunching it until the numbers look right. This book will help build your confidence and learn what ‘looks right’ and how to handle things if they don’t.
Tame, Messy and Wicked Risk Leadership
Hancock explains that the equation risk = likelihood x consequence only works when the risk is as a result of a knowledge gap and you can easily plug it. That isn’t the case in real life, where most risks are complex and you can’t easily control exactly what the outcome will be, even if you work meticulously through your risk management plan.
If you work on large or complex projects this will help you take risk management to the next level.
Make Every Second Count:Time Management Tips and Techniques for More Success with Less Stress
Robert R. Bly
Struggling to fit everything in to your working day? The strategies in here will help you get a grip on the time available and deal with your To Do list in a more productive way.
Essentially, he asks: “Do you want to be productive?” If you do, then get on and do the work. As a professional project manager you might not find any brand new tools in here, but you will get a dose of motivation to not complain that you can’t get anything done when in reality you surf the internet for a few hours a day.
Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More
This is another great book about time management (and if I had to choose between the previous book and this one, I’d go for this one although they both have their merits). In fact, I still get the email updates I subscribed to when I first read this book, and I unsubscribe from a lot of things.
I like the style of this book so if you are looking for something that isn’t dry reading and that still offers you practical tips for eking out a few more hours in the day, this is it.
If I remember rightly, there might even be zombies.
The Power of Project Leadership
Finally, here’s a book about soft skills that is not at all soft in nature. This leadership primer from Susanne Madsen will have you reaching for a notebook and pen to make copious lists about what you can be doing differently to drive success on your projects.
I think many guides about leadership talk about it in an abstract way. This is a concrete look at what ‘doing leadership’ actually means, with exercises and tools to help you on the way – things you can implement tomorrow, if you wanted.
What will you be packing or reading over the summer? Let us know in the comments.
I’ve spent a lot of time going through the PwC Global PPM Survey recently and there are lots of things in there that project managers can take away. The most important message – and this won’t come as a surprise – is that “the PM community needs to brush up on the basics.”
They give some statistics to support that:
That last statistic troubles me, because risk management is not a one-off activity. You can’t set up a risk log (on my other blog I have a free risk register template) and expect it to manage itself or expect the project’s environment to remain static to the point that no other risks manifest themselves during the life cycle. Risk management has to be a regular, ongoing activity.
Getting the project management basics right
The survey says:
“PMs can improve their performance in getting the basics right and help Executive Teams deliver programmes of change. Many of the improvements that can be made are basic PPM processes and should be part and parcel of every programme but are frequently not done well or are not done consistently.”
This is what I consider the basics.
First, set your objectives. Have a clear goal and a line of sight to that goal. Everything is easier when you have total clarity about what you are trying to achieve because every decision you make supports the journey to get there. (It also makes it easier to do point 3 below.)
Second, regularly measure progress. Apparently this is not always done in all programmes, although why you would invest in a programme of work and then not bother to check anyone is actually working on it is beyond me.
Third, have a process to manage changes. According to PwC’s maturity assessments, almost half of programmes don’t have established processes for managing change.
Fourth, build in time to reflect. You can’t do a good job when you and the team are stressed and under pressure. You need a moment to catch your breath, consider alternative solutions, work out what’s round the corner (be it positive or negative) and review lessons learned so you don’t make the same mistakes over and over again.
Fifth, manage your risks. Risks that aren’t managed cost you money. Risks that aren’t exploited miss you opportunities. Everyone needs a Plan B because you can never be too prepared, especially when you have a lot of time and money tied up in delivering transformational change.
All of these are basics, but they don’t need to be unwieldy or fully documented to be done well. The most important thing is talking about them. As the survey authors write:
“Whilst reviewing a risk register or ensuring a benefits tracker is up to date need to happen, what is most important is that the conversation around a particular risk is had with the right people to drive mitigating action.”
What other project management practices do you consider to be ‘the basics?’ Let me know in the comments below.